Employment and autism - Finding work and employment for Autistic adults & difficulties

Many autistic adults are able to work and most of them are keen to do so. Being able to work means independence, a sense of self-worth and the feeling that you are a useful member of society.

But only a small percentage of adults with an autistic spectrum disorder are in full time work.

Autism is a spectrum disorder which means that the symptoms vary according to where someone is on the spectrum. There are people with mild symptoms who are able to hold down a full time job; there are people with more noticeable symptoms who experience problems at work; and then there are people who are unable to work due to the severity of their symptoms.

There are people who manage to have a successful and fulfilling career and enjoy the benefits this brings. But these are often in the minority.

Problems with finding employment for autistic people

Unfortunately, many autistic people find it difficult to obtain employment and this is become an even greater problem in the current economic climate. Jobs are in short supply which means greater competition for those which are available.

Workplace misunderstandings

The main problems for autistic people are finding a job and then when they do, keeping that job. Problems often arise due to misunderstandings and ignorance of this condition which can cause a great deal of anxiety and stress.

Plus there is the fact that autism is not a ’visible’ disability in the same way as other forms of disability such as blindness or wheelchair users. As a result of this many employers fail to spot any signs of this disorder or lack an understanding of what this condition is and what to expect.

General lack of understanding about autism

So, not only does an autistic person have to deal with their employer’s attitudes, they also have to cope with similar attitudes from their work colleagues. This is a major problem in workplaces where social interaction and communication is the norm.

Workplace communication and interaction

Being able to talk to others, communicate via the phone, face to face or electronically or join in workplace banter are all vital skills which ensures that the day to day business is completed effectively and efficiently. For many people the chance to engage in workplace humour is what keeps them going throughout the day.

But this is something which many autistic people dread. They find it awkward to engage in the day to day banter and sarcastic quips that are part of any workplace. They struggle to understand the sarcasm and jokes included in the conversation and often take things literally.

As a result of this they avoid conversations with their colleagues which lead them to be viewed as aloof, unfriendly or ’weird’. They avoid socialising with their colleagues such as going to the pub after work and cab become isolated as a result.

Workplace bullying

Some autistic people experiencing bullying at work which then worsens their symptoms and leads to severe anxiety and stress. In many cases this causes them to give up work altogether.

There are many social rules which govern the workplace and these unwritten rules plus the undercurrents, internal politics and gamesmanship that people play can be overwhelming for the autistic person.

Finding the right job

There are jobs which autistic people are ideally suited to. These include jobs in computing, engineering, accounting, art and working with animals. Jobs which require someone to perform a task repeatedly or to memorise large amounts of data or information are another good choice.

Also consider jobs which require attention to detail or a high level of expertise in a particular area, for example, jewellery design. Another option is home-working, e.g. teleworking which can be done at home and avoids the need to be present in a large open plan space surrounded by other people.

If someone with autism is offered a job in a well ordered, calm and structured environment then they will thrive in that environment. This is more likely to be the case if they have an understanding employer who makes allowances for their symptoms and supports and encourages them.

An autistic person can be a very good employee as they are usually reliable, accurate, focussed and will see the job through. Plus they are very good with routine or repetitive tasks.

Help with finding work

Your local Jobcentre Plus will help and advise about finding work. Plus these centres often have a Disability Employment Adviser who is specially trained to deal with disabled jobseekers and will discuss employment options. He or she will also discuss aspects of the law relating to disability.

The National Autistic Society has an employment section on their website which contains information and advice about jobs and training.

Other sources include the internet, local newspapers and recommendations from family, friends or a carer.

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